Recovery from alcohol addiction generally follows the stages of abstinence, withdrawal, repair, and growth.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, you’re definitely not alone. In 2021, researchers estimated nearly 30 million people ages 12 years and older in the United States had alcohol use disorder (AUD).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), recovery is a process that involves remission from AUD and quitting heavy drinking for good.

Recovery also involves:

  • fulfilling basic human needs
  • enhancing one’s social and spiritual life
  • improving physical and mental health
  • improving one’s overall quality of life and well-being

If you’re ready to make a positive change, here’s what you may want to know about the recovery process.

So far, there’s no consensus on the medical definition of recovery in alcohol treatment literature.

That said, there are four general stages of recovery, as compiled by addiction expert Steven M. Melemis, MD. These stages can help prevent relapse and support people to live healthier, fuller lives.

The stages are:

Abstinence stage

The abstinence stage typically begins right after you stop drinking. It continues for at least 1–2 years.

During this stage, most people focus their energy on coping with cravings and resisting the urge to drink. Self-care is key during this stage.

While in this stage, some important steps may include:

  • accepting you have an addiction
  • welcoming self-honesty and reflection
  • learning coping skills to manage cravings
  • joining self-help groups
  • developing healthy self-care habits
  • learning to say no
  • letting go of friends with problematic drinking habits
  • recognizing and understanding the risks of cross-addiction
  • developing healthy alternatives to drinking
  • viewing yourself as a non-user

Common barriers to recovery during this time include:

  • physical cravings
  • neglecting self-care
  • wanting to use “just one last time”
  • struggling to come to terms with addiction

Although many people are tempted to make other major life changes during this stage of recovery, such as changing jobs, experts recommend focusing energy on stopping drinking for at least the first year.

Once you quit, you should be able to view your circumstances more clearly.

Post-acute withdrawal

While the abstinence stage of withdrawal causes mostly physical symptoms, post-acute withdrawal is very psychological and emotional.

This stage may last for up to 2 years. Your body has acclimated to quitting drinking over the past couple of years. To avoid a relapse at this stage, your mental health is vital.

Symptoms of post-acute withdrawal tend to include:

Since withdrawal symptoms tend to ebb and flow, you may be tempted to feel like you’re not making progress ― even though in reality, you’ve come a long way.

The mental challenge of this stage is not to let anything make you feel defeated. Even if you’ve hit a low point, you can get back up again.

Repair stage

Now that you’ve effectively managed cravings and withdrawal symptoms, the repair stage involves healing the damage drinking may have caused. This stage typically lasts for 2–3 years.

During the recovery stage, it’s not uncommon to feel temporarily worse. For some people, AUD has hurt their relationships, careers, health, finances, self-esteem, and other aspects of their lives.

As a result, overcoming guilt and negative self-talk is vital. Some people may feel so “broken” that they almost feel they can no longer experience joy and confidence, or have healthy relationships again.

During this stage, important tasks may include:

  • going to cognitive behavioral therapy sessions to overcome negative thought processes and avoid catastrophizing
  • recognizing that you are not your addiction
  • mending relationships
  • embracing discomfort
  • improving self-care strategies, which are integral to recovery
  • leading a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle
  • participating in self-help groups
  • developing healthy alternatives to drinking

Clinical evidence suggests that the most common causes of relapse during this stage are neglecting self-care or not attending self-help groups. During the repair stage, taking care of yourself is paramount.

Growth stage

The growth stage is all about improving and moving forward. During this period, you can expect to develop new skills you may have never learned that made you more susceptible to AUD in the first place.

This stage typically starts 3–5 years after you’ve stopped drinking. People often need to address past trauma or familial issues during this time.

Some important tasks during this stage may include:

  • identifying and repairing negative thought patterns
  • breaking self-destructive cycles
  • recognizing how habits have been passed down from previous generations
  • letting go of resentments
  • confronting fears via therapy or mind-body relaxation techniques
  • learning to set healthy boundaries
  • giving back and helping others
  • checking in with yourself regularly to make sure your lifestyle is still serving you and others

The challenge of this stage is to essentially develop and maintain healthy life skills that will serve you for a lifetime. An exciting part of this period is that it can lead you to a happier life full of welcomed change and constant improvement.

AUD is a highly treatable disease. When in doubt, follow these tips from Melemis to ensure a successful recovery:

  • Change your life: Recovery isn’t just about quitting drinking ― it’s also about creating a new life where it’s much easier not to drink. When your life changes for the better, your drinking habit will no longer have a place in it.
  • Be totally honest: Having an addiction often means lying to yourself or others. When you’re fully honest about your habit and how it may be affecting your life, career, and relationships, relapse is much less likely. Even though the honesty may feel extremely uncomfortable, it’s still preferable to perpetuating unhealthy cycles.
  • Seek help: Many people try to recover on their own, but like most endeavors, it’s a lot easier when there are others to empathize with and to help hold you accountable. Self-help groups drastically improve chances of sustained recovery, especially when combined with a substance use disorder program.
  • Prioritize self-care: Many people drink as a means of relaxation, escape, or to reward themselves. Meanwhile, many self-care habits can help people attain this and more. While many people who attempt to quit drinking may be very critical of themselves, self-care practices encourage releasing guilt and shame in favor of building healthier habits.
  • Practice mind-body relaxation: Meditation and mind-body relaxation techniques can reduce alcohol use and prevent relapse by decreasing stress and tension that may otherwise lead to relapse. It’s also a way to be kind to yourself and create space to relax.
  • Don’t bend the rules: It may be tempting to find loopholes. People who bend the rules might feel like “celebrating” their abstinence by drinking “just once,” for instance. However, this can sabotage your progress. To avoid relapse, it’s best to stick to your own agreements.

Therapy combined with an AUD program tends to lead to a high recovery success rate.

Common support groups for alcohol recovery include:

In the United States, you can also find rehab centers near you at

Recovery from AUD is marked by stages of abstinence, withdrawal, repair, and growth. While the process may take several years, the outcome is a happier, healthier life where you have the freedom to fulfill your full potential.

Combining therapy with support groups can greatly improve your odds of success.

While the recovery period may be challenging, it’s also filled with milestones that can transform your life into one that’s better than you could have previously imagined.

Remember, addiction is treatable. You have options to get where you want to be.